PEN SA Adds its Voice to Calls for Cameroonian Journalist Ahmed Abba to be Released

03 May 2017
PEN SA Adds its Voice to Calls for Cameroonian Journalist Ahmed Abba to be Released

PEN South Africa sent the statement below to the President of the Republic of Cameroon, Paul Biya.

Your Excellency,

PEN South Africa, an affiliate of an international organization, PEN International, and which represents writers, editors and translators who have pledged themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression or censorship but to uphold freedom of the press, condemns the manner in which Ahmed Abba, a correspondent for Radio France Internationale’s Hausa–language service, has been cruelly maltreated in your country while carrying out his professional duties as a journalist. We have been informed that he has been in jail since July, 2015, for reporting on the terrorist attacks on civilians and other inhuman activities of the Boko Haram militants.

Abba has subsequently been tried by a military tribunal on a charge of “complicity” with and “non-denunciation of acts of terrorism” for failing to tell authorities his reporting had brought him in contact with the Boko Haram group. He pleaded not guilty but on April 20 he was convicted on charges of “non-denunciation of terrorism” and “laundering of the proceeds of terrorist acts,” according to his lawyer, Clément Nakong, and his radio station. This trial resumed on April 24 and Abba was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and fined US $91,133. His lawyer said he would appeal.

Abba reported on the plight of those forced from their homes by conflict and on attacks by the militant group Boko Haram, which has renamed itself the Islamic State in West Africa, perpetrated in the north of Cameroon. Security forces arrested Abba on July 30, 2015, as he left a press conference in Maroua, his radio station reported. Authorities denied him contact with the outside world or access to his lawyer until October 19 of that year, and did not take a statement from him until November 13, more than three months after his arrest, which violates Cameroonian law, according to his lawyer then, Charles Tchoungang.

During this period Abba’s case was postponed 11 times while the military tribunal awaited technical evidence to support the grave charges against him. European Union diplomats attended the tribunal hearings, according to press reports, and in December, 2016, the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, publicly called for his release.

PEN South Africa adds its voice to the communication to you in January by the international independent press freedom advocacy organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists, that Abba should not have spent a single day behind bars simply for doing his job: reporting on issues and events of serious domestic and international concern. Journalists sometimes must speak with dangerous people in the course of their reporting, and cannot work effectively if they are expected or even suspected to be government informants.

PEN South Africa repeats with emphasis the strong criticism of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney in saying, “covering terrorism as a reporter must not be equated with committing acts of terror. Each day Abba spends behind bars is a travesty of justice.”

It is pointed out that the use of military courts to try civilians contravenes human rights law, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Cameroon ratified in 1989. In its Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights clearly said, “Military courts should not in any circumstances whatsoever have jurisdiction over civilians.”

Abba’s continued detention, his military trial, and the charges against him are an injustice that you have the power to end. PEN South Africa joins the Committee to Protect Journalists in calling on you and the Cameroon authorities not to contest the journalist’s appeal and to release him without delay. We also ask that you urgently instruct military prosecutors to drop all charges against Abba and to release him immediately.

PEN South Africa also emphasises the report by Abba’s radio station that the military tribunal acquitted him of the charge of “apologizing for acts of terrorism.”

Yours Sincerely,

Margie Orford

President PEN South Africa

Supported by:

Mandla Langa, Executive Vice-President, PEN South Africa

Raymond Louw, Vice President, PEN South Africa

Nadia Davids, PEN South Africa Co-opted Committee Member

Adré Marshall, PEN South Africa Committee Member

Justin Fox, PEN South Africa Committee Member

Karina Szczurek, PEN South Africa Co-opted Committee Member

Carol Bloch, PEN South Africa Committee Member

Gabeba Baderoon, PEN South Africa Committee Member

(Image courtesy of the Daily Maverick)